AUBURN — Auburn football fans probably don’t want to think more about that 41-12 bludgeoning by Penn State on Saturday night.
That’s OK. Processing a 30-point home loss is difficult. We’re here to answer any questions that you’re left with as Auburn (2-1) tries to recover before its SEC opener vs. Missouri (2-1) on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN).
The themes of these questions, unsurprisingly, are quarterbacks, coach Bryan Harsin job security and existentialism. Let’s begin.
Why did it take so long to bring Robby Ashford in? — Jeremy Raines
It seems I’m in the minority, but I still think T.J. Finley is the best option. I understand neither he nor Ashford looks like a good option right now − there’s a distinction between “good” and “best.”
But Finley, for all his inconsistencies, is the most capable thrower in that room as of Sept. 18, 2022.
Will Ashford surpass him eventually? Maybe. Right now he’s a good runner who has completed 15-of-29 passes with two interceptions this season. Finley has thrown four interceptions in 53 throws. If Ashford’s sample size equaled Finley’s, I’m not convinced his interception total wouldn’t be the same.
This is not me defending a quarterback with four interceptions. If Finley can’t get through a clean game, Auburn won’t make a bowl game. But he has shown he has arm talent to work with, and that’s the most important trait. He converted a third-and-21 with a beautiful throw against Penn State. He can hit targets on the wide side of the field, which forces defenses to expand.
But the main point is this: A quarterback change was not going to save Auburn from that result. Maybe five different offensive linemen would have. For all the focus on who’s QB1, that feels like just the tip of the iceberg.
Why is Calzada or Geriner not getting a shot? Do we know how to blitz?
— Whomp whomp (@NRHoffman) September 17, 2022
Why is Calzada or Geriner not getting a shot? Do we know how to blitz? — NR Hoffman
Auburn seems set on redshirting Holden Geriner this year. Can’t rule out Zach Calzada, though. He warmed up with his helmet on during the fourth quarter. Harsin said he needs to reevaluate everything after the loss, including his two-quarterback system. The Missouri game is the only one in SEC play where he can afford to experiment.
As for the lack of blitzing? I was surprised coordinator Jeff Schmedding never sent more pressure. Try to neutralize shaky coverage by playing to your strengths: Send more numbers after Sean Clifford behind a good defensive front and force him to get the ball out quicker. (Hard to create turnovers when opposing QBs are relaxed.) According to Pro Football Focus’ snap counts, this is the extent of Auburn’s pass rush excluding defensive line and edge rushers.
Linebacker Owen Pappoe: three pass rush snaps. Linebacker Cam Riley: one. Safety Zion Puckett: one.
Does Harsin survive the season or will they wait until after we get blown out by Bama to show him the door?
— cal (@autigerfan22) September 17, 2022
Does Harsin survive the season or will they wait until after we get blown out by Bama to show him the door? — Cal
In-season coaching change is very much in play. If Auburn is 3-2 coming out of the five-game home stretch, it’s hard to see Harsin coaching a second Iron Bowl. The Tigers need to beat Missouri and LSU. And that’s just for him to have a chance to make it through the season.
How do they start over? — Mark Thornhill
Can’t help you there. Try on your ruby slippers and orange Auburn jersey, close your eyes and say, “There’s no place like home” three times?
Question is ‘How happy is Auburn to have MIZZOU as the next opponent’. Answer should be: ecstatic as MIZZOU can’t stop the run; can’t run; and are prone to dumb mistakes
— Dan Byrne (@JPBIITour) September 17, 2022
How happy is Auburn to have Mizzou as the next opponent? — Dan Byrne
Very. On the day Mizzou visits, Auburn will be 329 days removed from its last Power Five win. The only Missouri game I’ve watched this year was Kansas State, which revealed zero signs of optimism.
But Auburn’s biggest defensive weakness is its coverage. Missouri five-star receiver Luther Burden might be the most talented indivdual player Auburn faces in its first four games. Could be a matchup nightmare. You never know.
On a related note, I’m also happy Mizzou is Auburn’s next opponent. Will be fun to see old friends and colleagues.